After 12 years as a pro and four behind the wheel as a team director, Gord Fraser is starting the 2013 season without a job. His plan to work for Team Exergy fell through when the sustainable energy company abruptly pulled the plug on its UCI Continental team, and now one of North America's most prolific winners is gearing up to go into business for himself.
“It all might work out for the best,” Fraser told Cyclingnews this week. “It kind of puts me at an interesting place in my career where I'm at a crossroads. I can go one of many different directions, so it's been a really interesting off-season, for sure.”
Fraser first raced professionally for Motorola in 1995 and 1996. He moved to the French Mutuell de Seine et Marne team in 1997 and rode his first-and-only Tour de France that year. But Fraser is best known for the long string of wins he put together after returning stateside to race from 1998 through his retirement in 2006.
The tenacious bunch sprinter, a three-time Olympian, compiled more than 200 career wins while riding for Mercury and HealthNet. He took the top prize in National Race Calendar individual standings twice, and he won the Canadian national road race championship in 2004.
Fraser retired from racing in 2006 after four successful years with HealthNet and took a job as the Southwest regional coach for Carmichael Training Systems, but he couldn't stay away from the peloton for long. He found his way behind the wheel of Team Type 1's car as director in 2009 and moved to the same position at UnitedHealthcare in 2010.
In 2011 Fraser took the reigns of On The Rivet Management's RealCyclist.com team and won the individual NRC standings with star rider Francisco Mancebo. Fraser's team repeated the feat with Mancebo in 2012 while riding under the Competitive Cyclist title sponsorship.
But when On The Rivet merged with Inferno Racing's Kenda/5-hour Energy team in the off-season, Fraser moved on and cleared the way for Kenda director and former Motorola teammate Frankie Andreu's smooth transition to leader of the newly formed outfit.
“With the downsizing and merger with On The Rivet and Inferno, it was clear that there wasn't going to be room for both Frankie and I,” Fraser said. “It was pretty clear that the byproduct of that merger was going to be even smaller than either of the teams had been the year before.
“Tad [Hamilton], Remi [McManus] and James [Carkulis] of Team Exergy had been recruiting me for a little while, and I really liked the riders on the team,” Fraser said. “I really liked Tad and Remi, too, so it just made sense and kind of made everyone's life a little easier to take that offer. Everyone was happy and it would have been a good situation.”
Then Exergy dropped its sponsorship, and Fraser, like many of the team's unsuspecting riders, found himself without a job for the first time in years. He took several months off over the winter to ride his bike, clear his mind and think about the path that lay ahead, he said, and then decided on the best way to stay in the sport. He's since started Gord Fraser Coaching and has already accumulated several clients.
“It's definitely the quickest way for me to keep in the sport,” Fraser said. “I really enjoyed my three years of coaching full-time with CTS when I first retired, so it was kind of a decision for me whether to go back to that desk or go on my own and work in my own style and at my own pace. It was a tough decision, but in the long run I think it will be good. I'm learning how to be my own boss again. It has its challenges, for sure.”
Fraser will still get his chance behind the wheel of a team car if the Canadian National Team, which he currently directs, is invited to that country's UCI and World Tour races. And if those coaching opportunities don't quench Fraser's thirst for competition, the local races he now has time to compete in might do the trick.
He still pulls six-hour days in the saddle so that he can go “toe to toe” with the latest pack of hopeful young riders who pass through his current hometown of Tucson every winter. And Fraser will line up with the pro men at a national level race for the first time since 2006 when the Old Pueblo Grand Prix speeds through Tucson on March 9. The race is the opening round of the National Criterium Calendar, and most of the top US pro teams will be there ready to tear off some legs.
“It will be really interesting to see how fast I used to be,” Fraser said, chuckling at the idea. “There are no expectations except to just go in and have fun. I'm definitely fit enough to be able to sit in and take a sniff here and there and just appreciate the athletes now who compete in the States. There's a lot of good talent here.”